The plain text transactional email default may soon be a thing of the past -- or at least we can hope. In many ways it's one of the last bastions of "less-than-good" practices being eradicated. There are a lot of reasons it's taken this long to give transactional email the attention it deserves, but most of it is due to technology (transactional emails have typically not been deployed from the same robust delivery platforms used for commercial email) and operational priorities.
But more and more brands are investing in transactional email projects, and bringing them up to the standards of their commercial email brethren. Out is plain text. In are the HTML makeovers with strong, positive, and appealing branding. Out are "just the facts." In are statement-stuffer-style offers and promotions. And not being able to track opens and clicks in transactional email will be about as acceptable as sending an unsolicited commercial email. A newly released Jupiter report, "The Transactional Messaging Imperative," estimates that transactional email has the ability to generate an additional $2.9 million dollars annually for a retailer.
All this is welcome news to and validation for many who have talked about the untapped opportunities in transactional messaging, and urged clients and brands forward. Before you charge ahead, here's a quick checklist of transactional email considerations:
1. CAN-SPAM. There are very clear guidelines on how much marketing content is acceptable in a transactional email (no more than 20%), and where in the email the marketing content can appear (below the fold). Tread too close to this line between the two and your transactional email might be considered commercial, which has a whole different set of legal requirements.
2. Opt-out. This is required for commercial, but not transactional. Do not give your customers the opportunity to opt out of transactional email. You are doing no one a favor if you think you are erring on the side of caution. If you allow customers to opt out, how are you going to send them their statement, receipt, itinerary, service update, and so on? Studies have shown that the vast majority of consumers do not mind a little, non-intrusive marketing content in their transactional email -- just keep it under 20% of the overall content.
3. Context. To the greatest extent possible, the offers provided in the email should have some relevance to transactional content. If I receive a payment confirmation email from my credit card, an offer to open a CD with a competitive interest rate makes sense to me. An offer for a toolbox or jewelry seems spammy.
4. Measurement. Reach, brand impression, and customer experience have value. If you're a retailer, it's easy to measure the success of your transactional program: revenue generation and ROI. But what if you're not affiliated with a retail channel, such as with credit card issuers, insurance companies, airlines, and hotels? Brand experience, exposure, awareness, and engagement have value. The key is to establish a proxy for what that value is, and evaluate it through standard email and online engagement metrics (opens, clicks, time on site, etc).
5. Platform. In all likelihood, you will have to migrate to a more robust email delivery platform, or augment your transactional infrastructure to accommodate the reporting, delivery, and creative (HTML) requirements of rich transactional email. Most transactional email is deployed and managed off a basic MTA (Mail Transfer Agent), which does little other than send a text email.
Rich transactional email provides a powerful way to influence consumer attitudes and behavior -- whether that's for cross-sell/up-sell opportunities and offers, to promote automatic payments and paperless statements, drive awareness of new store locations, or simply deliver against your brand promise. Soon maybe the only plain text transactional email we'll see will be hanging on the wall, encased in glass in the Tech Museum.